Policy, device compatibility efforts will invigorate healthy aging technologies

Analysts speaking at HIMSS19 argue that without major initiatives focused on adoption and platform creation, senior care technologies will remain low-impact point solutions.
By Dave Muoio
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The aging population’s caregiving needs are growing as quickly as the demographic, and a slew of new tech-based products for seniors, their families and providers are cropping up each day in response. But despite the potential voice-first interfaces and inconspicuous sensor-equipped wearables, analysts discussing the senior care technology market at HIMSS19 noted that long-term adoption is inconsistent at best, and nearly nonexistent among the country’s oldest residents.

“Once you start looking at the adoption numbers, they really trail off at ages when people could most benefit from using the technology,” Laurie Orlov, principal analyst at Aging In Place Technology Watch, said during a HIMSS19 panel. “We know many older adults, especially when you get past the age of 75, are still carrying around feature phones, clamshell phones, no data whatsoever. Even the pictures that their kids want to send them are not accessible through those kinds of devices.”

The roadblocks to senior tech adoption are many, but there are a couple of key focus areas that could yield substantial benefits when it comes to keeping devices in seniors’ hands or on their wrists. Chief among these for Orlov is support from lawmakers or other government forces.

“I’m waiting for a policy intervention that boosts the adoption,” Orlov said. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Older Americans Act, but [it’s] what created senior centers and meals on wheels in the United States, and it added technology components. [This kind of approach] could be the way we boost the adoption of technologies in older adults, particularly in the area of smartphones, which are relevant to almost everything we talked about today. But most importantly, it’d train older adults in their use.”

David Lindeman, director of health at UC Berkeley’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) as well as director of the Center for Technology and Aging, echoed Orlov’s point by highlighting the impact CMS’ telehealth rule changes, the FDA’s market guidance and other upcoming policy decisions can have on the market.

“Policies can hinder or rapidly advance this space,” he said. “But one of the biggest issues will be how are policies set up around issues such as 5G. You’re going to hear 5G up and down throughout the next few days [at HIMSS]. We know that it’s still not right around the corner, but when it gets here it will be amazing and it will influence every technology we have. So the way policies are set, the way we can see open source and access 5G, how companies will use this and how it will be used for the public good will be critical.”

In much the same way that healthcare tech at large needs to start thinking about 5G, device makers need to begin viewing their products as supportive to a larger health technology experience, the analysts said.

So far, many innovators and entrepreneurs are building their new devices without considering wider integrations, Orlov said. As a result, many of the wearables and voice technologies that could be assisting the elderly are destined to remain low-impact point solutions that, ultimately, won’t stick with their users.

To stem this trend, Lindeman reiterated the call for industry-wide technology standardization or, at least within the aging tech sector, a common platform able to connect complementary products.

“What you haven’t seen too much today are platforms, the idea of how you connect all of these programs, and right along with that is the issue of interoperability,” he said. “Many of the different technologies we’ve talked about are one-offs. They can function very well, but … people need different technologies at different points of their life. We change, people have different disability or accessibility issues. How do we start getting more technologies … at a certain point when we need them?

“We have yet to create standards to allow major players, let alone these new companies, to come along and play off of that. I do think the ultimate solution is … ubiquitous, or just existing, interfaces. If we don’t have these large systems, we’re going to have a great deal of difficulty for people to take advantage of this. We’re still going to be seeing barriers of low adoption over time.”

HIMSS19 Coverage

An inside look at the innovation, education, technology, networking and key events at the HIMSS19 global conference in Orlando.

Twitter: @dave_muoio
Email the writer: dave.muoio@himssmedia.com